Archive for the ‘This Day in History’ Category

Ex-Berliner recalls Kennedy’s death

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

J. Elke Ertle was a Berlin teenager when John F. Kennedy’s death plunged West Berlin into depression and despair. From the end of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Berlin was physically divided. In 1961, the East German government, with Soviet backing, surrounded West Berlin with a 12-foot wall. In June 1963, Kennedy gave a historic speech in which he expressed admiration for those who had remained in the tiny capitalist island despite being surrounded by a communist sea.

Excerpt from Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom

Elke writes, “My eighteenth birthday fell on a Thursday. I didn’t celebrate until the following afternoon, November 22. Three girlfriends came for a Kaffeeklatsch and had barely left when the phone rang. It was my American friend. I assumed he wanted to wish me a happy birthday. Instead he asked, “Have you heard the news?”

“What news?”

“President Kennedy has been shot!”

A long silence. I tried to comprehend.

“President Kennedy? When?”

“Less than half hour ago.”

“Shot at? Or shot dead?”

My friend shared what he knew. “Go and turn on the TV,” he said. We quickly said good-bye, and I flicked on the set. In disbelief, I watched as the tragedy in Dallas unfolded. Although the shooting had occurred shortly after noon Texas-time, it was already evening in Berlin. Within hours, thousands of Berliners gathered in the Rudolph-Wilde-Platz in front of city hall where John F. Kennedy had spoken only five months earlier. In a broadcast, the Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt, read,

“Eine Flamme ist erloschen. Erloschen fuer alle Menschen, die auf einen gerechten Frieden hoffen und auf ein besseres Leben. Die Welt ist an diesem Abend sehr viel aermer geworden. (A flame has gone out. Gone out for all people who hope for a just peace and a better life. The world has grown considerably poorer this evening.)” 

The following afternoon, my friends and I joined the 15,000 students who walked in silence from the Airlift Memorial to the Schoeneberger Rathaus. We marched behind a banner that read Wir haben einen Freund verloren — We have lost a friend.

On the day of Kennedy’s state funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, 250,000 of us gathered in front of Berlin’s city hall. The Rudolph-Wilde-Platz was renamed John-F.-Kennedy Platz. In West Berlin, where the East-West confrontation could be felt more than anywhere else in the world, the grief for Kennedy was particularly deep. John F. Kennedy had been our hero. Our loss was personal.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

“No tango,” said Kaiser Wilhelm II

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

“No tango,” said Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, one hundred years ago today. On November 20, 2013, he issued a degree that forbade his uniformed officers to participate in the new and sensuous dance. Here is why:

Tango’s History

In Latin, tango means “I touch.” The dance originated toward the end of the 19th century. It suddenly sprung up in the working-class port neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in Argentina. The tango’s distinctive voice is attributable to a small musical instrument, the Bandoneon. Heinrich Band, a German immigrant, had brought it to Argentina. The tango quickly moved from the modest port tenements and seedy bordellos into the palaces of the wealthy. Its movements required close body contact. Phonographs, a new invention at the time, transported the dance to the Old World where London, Paris, and Berlin enthusiastically embraced it.

Tango, the gutter child

Because poor immigrants from many different countries were thrown together in Buenos Aires, the tango expressed their longing for the land they had left behind. Unable to identify with these immigrants’ plights, Kaiser Wilhelm II called the dance “a gutter child.” He preferred different rhythms. His keenly religious wife, Auguste Victoria, hated to dance altogether. But the tango became popular despite the emperor’s preferences. Even within his own circle, the Countess of Schwerin-Loewitz, wife of the president of the Prussian Parliament, could not be dissuaded from hosting a tango party. At the soiree, diplomats and high ranking officers tangoed tightly knotted with their partners. To stop the craze, Kaiser Wilhelm II forbade all uniformed Prussian Army officers to tango. For additional information, please visit www.kalenderblatt.de

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Last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. He forbade the tango (taken in 1905 - archival photo)

Last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. He forbade the tango
(taken in 1905 – archival photo)

Originally a low-class dance form, the tango became wildly popular with upper and middle classes around the world. In 1916, Roberto Firpo, bandleader of the period, introduced the standard tango sextet: two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

The day the Berlin Wall fell

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

9 November 1989 will be remembered as the day the Berlin Wall fell. The Berlin Wall became the hated symbol of the Cold War. It had stood for twenty-eight years and fell unexpectedly within a few short hours. Not one shot was fired.

What caused the Berlin Wall to fall

In the wake of glasnost and perestroika, Hungary had opened its borders to Austria on 19 August 1989. The following month, thousands of East Germans raced to Hungary to flee to free Austria. Hungary’s border opening created a chain reaction. Demonstrations for increased freedoms broke out all over East Germany. Two months later, in October, East German leaders forced longtime Head of State, Erich Honecker, to resign and installed the moderate, Egon Krenz. With this action they hoped to appease the public. But the protests and the exodus continued. When Hungary tightened its new border crossing policies again, East Germans begged the West German embassy in Prague for help. The situation was quickly becoming a public relations disaster for East Germany.

What was supposed to happen

To release some of the pressure that had built-up, Egon Krenz decided on 9 November 1989 to allow East German refugees to exit legally through the crossing points between East Germany and West Germany, including West Berlin. Furthermore, his government intended to also ease private travel restrictions. These new regulations were to take effect the following day to allow time to inform the border guards. In other words, the East German government intended to relax the regulations for travel abroad. It did not mean to open the borders completely.

What happened instead

Shortly before giving a live evening press conference on 9 November 1989, party spokesman Guenter Schabowski was handed a note announcing the planned travel restriction changes. The regulations had only been written a few hours earlier. Schabowski had not been made privy to their content. Instead, he read at 6:53 p.m. the press release handed to him, “…Und deshalb haben wir uns entschlossen, heute eine Regelung zu treffen, die es jedem Buerger der DDR moeglich macht, ueber Grenzuebergangspunkte der DDR auszureisen – …And that is why we decided, to introduce a new regulation which will make it possible for every citizen of the GDR (East Germany) to legally exit the GDR through existing border crossings.” http://www.kalenderblatt.de

When a reporter asked when the new regulations would go into effect, Schabowski shrugged his shoulders and guessed, “Sofort – Immediately.” His offhand answer brought about dramatic consequences.

The beginning of the end of the Berlin Wall

The press conference was aired on East German television and news agencies around the world. Shortly after hearing the broadcast around 7 p.m., East Berliners began gathering at the six checkpoints between East and West Berlin, demanding that the border guards open the gates to the West. The surprised guards frantically called their superiors but received no clear instructions. By 8 p.m. hundreds of people had reached the border crossings. Soon thousands. The crowds failed to disperse. The situation was rapidly deteriorating. The vastly outnumbered soldiers had no way of holding back the huge crowds of East German citizens. By 9 p.m. the guards began to open the checkpoints. By midnight, all of Berlin’s border crossings were open. One hour later, West Germany’s checkpoints were open as well. They never closed again. 9 November 1989 will be remembered as the day the Berlin Wall fell.

East and West Berliners celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the early morning of 10 November 1989. AP Photo - Jockel Finck

East and West Berliners celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the early morning of 10 November 1989.
AP Photo – Jockel Finck

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

First Motorcycle

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

On this day in history – on 29 August 1885 – The German inventors, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, built the first motorcycle. In a greenhouse in Bad Cannstatt in the south of Germany, the two men invented the first gas-powered internal combustion engine. It put out 0.5 horsepower and fit under the seat of a wooden bicycle frame. The tires of their invention were studded with metal. Two outrigger wheels kept the contraption upright. Its maximum speed was 7.5 miles/hour, about the speed of a bicycle.

Daimler-Maybach had built the first motorcycle in the world, but at first, they did not call it “motorcycle.” Since its leather seat was shaped like a saddle, they initially called it Reitwagen auf zwei Raedern (riding car on two wheels.) For Daimler, the Reitwagen was only an experiment. He was looking toward showier groundbreaking inventions. Therefore, he never rode the Reitwagen himself and asked his son, Paul, to test the contraption’s performance on its initial 2-miles test run between Bad Cannstatt and Untertuerkheim.

Initially called Reitwagen auf zwei Rädern (riding car on two wheels), the first motorcycle had a speed of 7.5 miles/hour

The first motorcycle was invented by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1885

In the early days, the two-wheeler failed to catch on, aside from being popular in some upper circles in French society. German mass production did not start until the turn of the century. At that time, the Bavarian company, Hildebrandt and Wolfmueller, patented the invention under the name of Motorrad (motorcycle). The motorcycle reached its heyday in the post WWII years when it became an affordable means of transportation. With 78 miles/hour, it was fast compared to a bicycle. Then, in the 50s and 60s, people began to abandon motorcycles again in favor of cars. But starting in the 70s, motorcycles made a comeback. Ownership became synonymous with rebellion, freedom, and adventure.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

Made in Germany

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Did you know that the familiar “Made in Germany” trademark is not a German invention? It is a British idea. On 23 August 1887 – 126 years ago today – The United Kingdom passed a law, called the Merchandise Marks Act. This law required the labeling of all products of foreign origin. At a time when British industry dominated world market, its government wanted to reduce foreign competition. The new law required each foreign nation to stamp products shipped to Britain with a “MADE IN…” seal. The Merchandise Marks Act was particularly aimed at Germany because it was suspected that the Germans were copying British products. The new regulation intended to make foreign products more obvious, stigmatize them, and hopefully encourage British buyers to “buy British.”

Following World War II, "Made in Germany" became synonymous with quality, reliability, and longevity

“Made in Germany” trademark, first applied in 1887

At first the plan worked because, even before the new law had gone into effect, German products had had the reputation of being cheap and inferior. But the German Industrialist, Werner von Siemens, came to realize that German industry had to improve the quality of its products if it wanted to compete in world markets. Soon, German knifes, watches, beer, and pianos were of as good a quality as their British counterparts. Sometimes, they were even better while still remaining less expensive. But the real triumph of the “Made in Germany” trademark did not occur until after Word War I. By then, Germany had begun to offer custom-tailored, quality products rather than mass-produced items. The method worked well for Germany. Its “Made in Germany” trademark ultimately developed into a sign of quality. It stood for quality, reliability, and longevity.

Now the question – is there still a need for a trademark in the globalized markets of today? Airbus parts, for instance, are manufactured in four different countries. Individual components are installed worldwide. Which “Made in…” trademark should be stamped on an Airbus do you think? Your thoughts?

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

First free West German Federal Elections

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The first free West German Federal elections took place on 14 August 1949. Following the end of World War II in 1945, the country had been divided into four occupation zones: American, British, French and Soviet. Only the people in the Federal Republic of Germany (the three West German zones) participated in the elections. The turnout was 78.5%. Earlier, Bonn had become the provisional capital of the new democratic state. As a territory under Allied supervision, Berlin’s deputies did not get to cast their votes in the elections.

Most West German parties at the time of the 1949 West German Federal elections were committed to democracy. However, they disagreed on the kind of democracy. The Christian Democratic (CDU) leader and former mayor of the city of Cologne, 73-year-old Konrad Adenauer, was party chairman in the British Zone. He wanted a moderate, non-denominational, humanist Christian democracy. The Social Democratic (SPD) leader, Kurt Schumacher, pushed for a left-wing, patriotic party. He strongly opposed the earlier merger of the SPD with the Communist Party (KPD) in the Soviet zone and called Adenauer “Chancellor of the Allies.”

CDU/CSU President Konrad Adenauer

Konrad Adenauer
First President of the Federal Republic of Germany

In the first free West German Federal elections, the Christian Democrats formed a coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Conservatives (DP). Together, they obtained 31% of the votes. The Social Democrats achieved 29.2%. Therefore, on 15 September 1949, Konrad Adenauer was elected the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. He had made sure that the votes of the predominantly Social Democratic deputies from West Berlin did not count and later stated that he “naturally” had voted for himself. Adenauer held the office until 1963 and was re-elected three times. Schumacher assumed the chair as the minority leader of the SPD, ran for President of West Germany, but was defeated by FDP chairman Theodor Heuss.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

Otto Lilienthal’s Last Glider Flight

Friday, August 9th, 2013

This day in history marks Otto Lilienthal’s last glider flight. He was a German pioneer of aviation and became known as the Glider King and Father of Flight. The date of his last flight was 9 August 1896. It was a beautiful summer day in Stoelln, about 60 kilometers northwest of Berlin, when Otto Lilienthal stepped into his harness for the last time. He had already made three successful flights that day and had attained his usual flying distance of over 800 feet. On the fourth attempt, he was slowly gliding into the valley when an unexpected sudden gust caught him off guard. His glider pitched and stalled. The Glider King lost control and crashed to the ground.

Otto Lilienthal had piloted gliders since 1891. During those five years, he made over 3000 flights and built 18 different contraptions. His largest double decker glider had a wingspan of 23 feet. His designs were similar to today’s frames for hang gliders and ultralight aircraft. He and his younger brother Gustav had tinkered with strap-on wings, using willow switches and cotton fabric, since Otto was fourteen. The storks near their home along the River Peene had been their inspiration. The brothers proceeded to study the flight of birds and soon recognized that the principal of aerodynamics is involved in flight and that wings need to have a curvature.

Otto Lilienthal German Pionier of Aviation He crashed on 9 August 1896

Otto Lilienthal
German Pionier of Aviation
He crashed on 9 August 1896

On Otto Lilienthal’s last glider flight on 9 August, 1896, he dropped from a height of about 50 feet, still in his glider. As he was placed on a cot, he is reported to have said, “I hardly have any pain. I’m just going to rest a little bit.” He, in fact, had fractured his spine and died from the injuries the following day.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

Potsdam Agreement

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

The Potsdam Agreement contains the details of the tripartite military occupation and reconstruction of Germany and the European Theatre following World War II. It was signed on this day in history in 1945. Shortly after midnight on 2 August 1945, the representatives of the three victorious WWII Allies, Clement Attlee (Great Britain), Harry S. Truman (United States), and Joseph Stalin (USSR) signed the Potsdam Agreement at Schloss Cecilienhof in Potsdam. The castle is located about 16 miles southwest of Berlin.

Potsdam Conference

The Big Three:
Clement Attlee, Harry S. Truman, Joseph Stalin

Relative to Germany, the Potsdam Agreement addressed mainly the “5D’s”: Denazification, Demilitarization, Democratization, Decentralization, and Disassemblement.
– DENAZIFICATION – eradication of the National Socialist Party and Nazi institutions to eliminate all Nazi influence. War criminals to be brought to swift justice.
– DEMILITARIZATION – disarmament and demilitarization of Germany and the elimination of all German industries that could be used for military production.
– DEMOCRATIZATION – formation of political parties and trade unions, freedom of speech, press, and religion.
– DECENRALIZATION – elimination of a concentration of powers by decentralizing the political structure.
– DISMANTLING – Reduction or destruction of all civilian heavy-industry with war-potential, such as shipbuilding, machine production, and chemical factories. Restructuring of German economy towards agriculture and light-industry. It was further agreed that reparations to the USSR should come from the Soviet zone of Germany; reparations to the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries to come from the Western Zones. In addition, it was agreed that the USSR would be entitled to 10% of the industrial capacity (industrial capital equipment and industries) of the western zones. Dismantling was stopped in West Germany in 1951. In East Germany disassemblement continued.

The Potsdam Agreement was superseded by the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany”, which was signed on 12 September 1990, following reunification.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

Walter Ulbricht

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

On this day in history–July 24,–communist statesman Walter Ulbricht became the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Social Unity Party of East Germany. He had been the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of East Germany since 1949. When the party had restructured into a more Soviet-style Communist party the following year, Walter Ulbricht had become General Secretary of the Central Committee. In 1953, that position was renamed First Secretary, making Walter Ulbricht the actual leader of East Germany. On account of a childhood diphtheria infection, he retained a squeaky falsetto voice, which made his speeches difficult to understand.

Walter Ulbricht, East German Statesman 1950-1971

Walter Ulbricht, East German Statesman
1950-1971

Already during the Weimar Republic (1919 to 1933) Ulbricht had played a key role in the creation of Germany’s Communist Party. He had spent the Hitler years in exile in the Soviet Union. In 1945, he had returned to Germany to reconstruct the communist Social Unity Party and to help establish the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Walter Ulbricht was a loyal follower of Leninist and Stalinist principles and is quoted as having said, “Es muss demokratisch aussehen, aber wir muessen alles in der Hand haben–it has to look democratic but we must keep our hands in everything.”

In 1950, Ulbricht announced a five-year plan concentrating on the doubling of industrial production in East Germany. By 1952, eighty percent of industry had been nationalized. Consumer goods were often in short supply or of shoddy quality. His leadership is said to have been repressive, and undemocratic, and that he crushed all opposition. As a result, large numbers of citizens fled to the West. In order to stop the outflow of workers he gave orders to build the Berlin Wall in 1961. Only two months earlier he had publicly stated, “Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten–No one has the intention to erect a wall.” His unwillingness to seek an accord with West Germany coupled with his difficult relationship with Soviet Union party leader, Leonid Brezhnev, forced his resignation in 1971. He was replaced by his protage, Erich Honecker.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

Angela Merkel

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

On this day in 1954, Angela Merkel was born in Hamburg. The city was part of West Germany at that time. In 2005, she became the first female chancellor of the unified Federal Republic of Germany and has been in office ever since.

The year Angela Merkel was born, her father, a Protestant pastor, secured a pastorate at a church in Quitzow. The town was located in the former East Germany, and the family moved to nearby Templin, 50 miles north of Berlin. Here, Merkel learned to speak Russian fluently and went on to pass the Abitur, the higher education entrance qualification. From 1973 to 1978 she studied physics at the University of Leipzig. Until 1990 she worked and studied at the Academy of Sciences of the German Democratic Republic, which was considered the most important research institution in East Germany. While there, she published several papers and in 1986, she was awarded a doctorate in physics for her thesis on quantum chemistry.

Angela Merkel did not get involved in politics until the fall of the Berlin Wall when she joined the party, Democratic Awakening. Following the East German state’s first and only multi-party election, she became the deputy spokesperson of the short-lived East German pre-unification government under Lothar de Maiziere. He ran on a platform of a speedy reunification.

Angela Merkel Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Angela Merkel
Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

In 1977, Merkel–nee Kasner–married physics student Ulrich Merkel. The union ended in divorce five years later. In 1998 she married professor Joachim Sauer, a quantum chemist at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Angela Merkel is known to be a fervent soccer fan.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.